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Bound to Read: How to Write A Book Description That Really Works

18 September 2020
cheat-sheet on how to write a book description that sells a book

How do you pick a book? Get recommendations from a friend? Go after the beloved author? Browse through your favorite category in search of some undiscovered treasure? But after you’ve got the book into your hands, what do you do? Right, you read the description. This short piece of text decides whether you will read the book at all (no matter how writers may be frustrated with this fact). 

The description is placed on the back cover for easy access – and for attracting your attention, for making you crave the book, cling to it and carry it right to the cash-out point. 

If you research how to write a book description, it is easier to define what the description is not.  

The description is not a review (subjective opinion), not a synopsis (full retelling), and not a summary or analysis. Nope.

The description is a concise, carefully written ad that contains introductory information about the book, its protagonists, and a hook that promises the thrill from reading but does not reveal much. Yep, that’s it. The description is an advertising piece that intrigues the reader, provides enough general information to attract the category fans, and teases them into reading. That’s what a good description does. 

It sounds like a good movie teaser, and that’s what it actually is (or should be). 

With this in mind, you may even understand why you picked a book due to its description and did not like reading it. The description was written better than the book itself (like many movie teasers are, he-he). However, in this world, there is a book for everyone, so let’s help each book meet its reader. 

Guide on Description Writing For All Books 

Follow these five simple rules on how to write a book description and produce finger-licking descriptions that seduce the readers. 

  • Short is the word. The description is an ad, not a study guide. Look to 250 words at most, which makes a couple of paragraphs. Say only the vital introductory things – who, when, and a little bit of what. 

‘Mary is a journalist who has just discovered the horrible things about a local politician that also connects to her family’s past. Will she be able to deal with it?’ Take it as a rough sample and build your own description. 

  1. Use a third-person perspective only. You write about the book itself, not about your reaction or about a character’s perspective. No matter the perspective taken in the book, you write from a distance. 
  2. The obligatory element – intrigue/hook. This is what you need to polish to perfection when you learn how to write a book description. You stop telling about the plot just before events go exciting and inform the reader that he/she will learn the juicy details and the resolution of the conflict only after reading the book. Like, what will Mary do with the stuff she learned about that politician, and how is her paternal aunt twice removed involved in it? Keep the hook short and bright. Otherwise, the potential reader will get bored and click on some other shopping option. 
  3. Simple language only, please. Simple words, short, clear sentences. Do not imitate the writer’s style, do not take away their bread (often unsuccessfully), scaring away the readers by this poor imitation along the way.
  4. Emotional words that describe feelings a reader gets from the book. Yep, this is how you tell the readers the book is worth reading. Mary has put her foot knee-deep into all this trouble, so what? 

Well, the story will be chilling and gripping, fast-pacing and nail-biting with rich historical details, a pinch of satire, and a delicate note of sensuality. Now you are more willing to learn what Mary is up to, aren’t you? These are powerful words that wake people’s interest. Google these words and have them ready, just do not throw them all into your description (like we did it here). 

No-Nonsense Books: Tips On How To Write A Book Description For Non-Fiction Texts

The above tips apply to all descriptions without exception, but there are some nuances you may want to consider. 

  1. Authority matters. Non-fiction is about facts and events, so the personality of an author matters. A university professor and member of Royal scientific society is a better expert on some complex scholarly topics than a teen Insta blogger. 
  2. The specific professional value of the given book. Why will this book solve the reader’s problem or mace a valuable read?What makes it stand among other similar works? Methods? Sources? Point of view? New hypothesis? Mention it! Here you can use bullet-point presentation, unlike in fiction description. 
  3. First-hand experience and credibility. Personal experience and expertise are key. Mention it when you say that this book of memoirs is one of a kind and groundbreaking.

Hobbits, Thrones and Stars: How To Write A Book Description for Fiction Texts

  1. Put it strait – the genre. Fans of sci-fi and fantasy are like the Montagues and the Capulets in the literature world, and suspense lovers do not break the bread with romance fans. So, mention clearly whether it is about sword and sorcery or about space odysseys and electric sheep, and stick to the main genre plot. 
  2. Place a hook just in time to keep the potential reader thrilled. Point to the source of conflict but do not reveal the resolution. Or say that everything is not what it seems, and waters will get even muddier along the way. 
  3. Mention the author or the specific universe if it helps to better understand the genre or connect to other books (that sell well). A new fiction no-Harry Potter book from J.K. Rowling will sell better than the book of the same genre from an obscure writer. 

Final advice 

When you read abouthow to write a book description, it all seems easy and clear. But as with the book and its description, what is promised is not always what you get. 

Pick the book you know well. Write a description. Look at the back cover and compare the official one with the one you created. Write another description. Let it sit. Re-read it. Cringe. Write the third one. Show all descriptions to people you trust. Ask their opinion. What works and what does not. What thrills and what sounds ridiculous or banal. Take the description people liked most and try to achieve the same result with another book. And another. And one more. 

Practice makes the master. But you will know it only if you take the journey of writing all those descriptions, without skipping pages and jumping right to the end. It would make a good book description, eh?

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